|Dancers perform during the opening ceremony at the FINA World Swimming Championships Gwangju 2019, Friday. /Yonhap|
By Kwon Mee-yoo
The world's best swimmers have gathered in the southwestern city of Gwangju for the FINA World Championships Gwangju 2019 that kicked off Friday.
Gwangju, about 330 kilometers south of Seoul, is hosting the largest-ever FINA world championships in six water sports over 17 days. Over 2,600 athletes from 194 countries have signed up and will be vying for 76 gold medals in swimming, diving, water polo, artistic swimming, open water swimming and high diving.
Despite the host city's effort to invite North Korean swimmers by exceptionally extending the registration period to the opening day, Pyongyang had not responded as of Friday afternoon, essentially failing to attend the international swimming competition.
The opening ceremony themed "Fountain of Light" was held at the Gwangju Women's University Universiade Gymnasium. The theme was inspired from the city's name, which means the city of light in Korean.
The ceremony began at the May 18 Democracy Square, where the final struggles of the May 18 Gwangju Uprising took place in front of the former South Jeolla Provincial Office, with streams of water shooting from a central fountain.
The show followed a plot of the light of Gwangju healing the contaminated water across the globe, complete with three-dimensional images and other special effects.
After the opening performance, participating countries paraded with their nations' flags and the official opening was announced.
Yoon Jeong-seop of the Korea National University of Arts directed the opening and closing ceremony.
"The three key phrases of the opening ceremony are water, symbolizing the aquatics championships; spirit of democracy, human rights and peace inherited from Gwangju's history; and culture and art of the city. The ceremony is designed to deliver the message of water coming from all around the world and encountering the light of Gwangju that will help solve various problems such as environmental pollution," Yoon said.
"The most important thing is to make the citizens of Gwangju have a sense of ownership of the event."
Ahead of the official opening ceremony, diving and artistic swimming preliminaries were held and South Korean diver Woo Ha-ram advanced to the final in the men's 1m springboard.
On Saturday, more artistic swimming and diving will be held as well as the only open water event of the championships.
The men's 5km open water swimming will see the first gold medal of the aquatics competitions awarded. Scheduled for 8 a.m. at the Yeosu EXPO Ocean Park Open Water Swimming Competition Venue in the coastal city of Yeosu, the sport is held in the sea, instead of an indoor pool.
Baek Seung-ho and Cho Jae-hoo will compete in the race, the first South Koreans to ever participate in an open water event at the FINA championships.
Preliminaries for mixed duet technical artistic swimming are scheduled for 11 a.m., while solo technical finals are at 7 p.m. at the Yeomju Gymnasium Artistic Swimming Competition Venue.
In diving, the synchronized men's 3m springboard will be held at 10 a.m., followed by three finals ― synchronized mixed 10m platform at 1 p.m., women's 1m springboard at 3:30 p.m. and synchronized men's 3m springboard at 8:45 p.m. ― at the Nambu University Municipal Aquatics Center.